Sierra Burns leaned close against the neck of the sleekly muscled black horse. “Come on, Shadow,” she urged. “Let’s go faster.”
Shadow seemed more than willing to obey, and he shifted into a swift gallop. His hooves made dull thuds against the hard-packed sand of the beach, competing with the roar of waves rushing up the shoreline toward his legs.
Sierra leaned down even further, breathing in the scent of horse and ocean, and closed her eyes. There was no feeling closer to flying than this. The wind rushed past, pulling Sierra’s long auburn-red tresses away from her face to tangle behind her.
This is heaven.
The only warning Sierra received that her luck was about the change was a slight bunching of Shadow’s muscles. She opened her eyes just as the horse squealed, reared back, and hopped awkwardly.
As good of a horsewoman as Sierra was, she didn’t expect it. Although she held her seat for a few seconds while Shadow continued bucking and jumping, it didn’t take long for him to throw her.
Flopping to the ground flat on her back, Sierra’s head thumped into the packed sand. The impact pushed all the air from her lungs and Sierra wheezed, trying to force in oxygen as cracks of light danced in her vision.
“Holy shit!” a male voice exclaimed from somewhere above her. “Are you okay?”
Still unable to breathe properly, Sierra shook her head. The motion provoked pain and slight nausea. She must have hit pretty hard to inspire that kind of pain.
Work-callused hands brushed wet sand from her cheeks as the man knelt beside her.
Shadow had also returned. His horsey breath smelled of hay as he sniffled at her head in apparent apology.
“What are you doing on this beach?” The man’s tone was demanding, putting Sierra on the defensive.
She’d give this resort worker a piece of her mind for speaking to her like that. Well, as soon as she could breathe, she would.
“Guests are supposed to ride on the groomed trails and in the racing field only,” he continued in his superior voice. “Didn’t they tell you that when you left the stables? This shouldn’t have happened.”
Sierra pushed his hand away from her shoulder, where he’d left it after cleaning her face, and glared up at the voice. Prepared for someone as ugly as his attitude, shock filtered through her when she saw the handsome man hovering over her. His blue eyes held concern that belied the anger in his voice, and his sandy brown hair was a bit longer than considered appropriate in polite society. Which, of course, made him even more attractive. This man would be certain to drive her parents nuts if she brought him to a family dinner.
Pushing herself gingerly to a sitting position, Sierra rubbed at the back of her head, feeling a lump forming. “Just great. I haven’t been bucked from a horse since I was ten.” She glared at the man again, knowing it was his fault Shadow spooked. “What are you doing out here? This is a private beach and only the McCallister family members are allowed on it.”
He laughed, somehow the sound seeming full of good humor even though Sierra was under no illusion that he wasn’t laughing at her. She felt herself smile reflexively. “What’s so funny?”
Raking his hair from his eyes, he winked. “You’re exactly right, sexy lady. McCallisters only allowed on this beach. So, why are you here? I’m pretty sure you’re not my cousin.”
Sierra gasped softly. He was a McCallister? What a blunder she’d made. His family owned this resort. Heck, they owned the entire island. Though her father would never admit it, the McCallisters could buy out everything the Burns family owned without even denting their wealth. How embarrassing to have mistaken him for a common resort employee! Then again, his hands were awfully callused. They felt like a hard-working man’s hands. The kind of hands she would love to have stroke her body and—
“Maybe you hit your head harder than I thought,” he said, tilting his head to the side as he drew her attention back to his handsome face. “You’re pretty spaced out. I’ll call Dr. Peterson and let him know I’m bringing you to the clinic.”
A hot blush crept up her neck and cheeks, and Sierra shook her head softly. “I think I’m okay. A little dazed.” But not by the fall—by him. “Give me a second to get my bearings.”
With a shrug, he sat beside her. He ran his hand over her face once again, then circled around to the back of her head, prodding gently.
Hissing with pain, Sierra slapped his hand away. “That hurts! I’m going to have one heck of a goose egg there.”
“We need to get some ice on that,” he said and Sierra refrained from rolling her eyes. Nothing like stating the obvious.
The man rubbed his hands against his blue and black board shorts before standing. “I’ll help you back in Shadow’s saddle and lead you to the stables. I’d hate for you to have an accident on the way. What’s your name?”
“Sierra Burns.” Although she tried to say it with authority and look down her nose at him, his standing over her spoiled the effect and left her feeling even more foolish.
“Well, Sierra Burns, I won’t report this or get you banned from the stables during your stay on the island, but no more leaving the approved riding areas.” He stuck his hand out to help her to her feet.
Angry at his chastisement, Sierra ignored the help and pushed herself off the ground. Only to find she was extremely dizzy upon standing. The earth buckled beneath her feet and Sierra lurched sideways.
The man’s arms went around her waist and pulled her tight against him. “Careful, Sierra. Can’t have you falling again. You don’t need any more bumps on your head.”
His breath was hot against her ear as he held her, and even the dizziness wasn’t enough to distract her from the feel of his smooth, hard muscles beneath his light blue shirt, or the manly, musky smell of his skin.
“Thank you, Mr. McCallister.” She forced herself to pull away. After all, he’d had the gall to reprimand her. It wasn’t like she could let herself actually be drawn in by his attractive looks or sexy blue eyes.
Not to mention, a McCallister would be entirely appropriate for her to date in the eyes of her father. She was tired of following the rules and planned to have herself some good, rebellious fun this summer. At twenty-five, she deserved to break loose from the shadow of her parents and live her own life. If she brought a McCallister home, they’d have her married off to him before she had any time for exploration and fun.
But when the man grinned again, Sierra couldn’t help but feel her heart soften toward him more. There was something flirty and exciting and sexy in his bright gaze.
“Why don’t you call me Parker?” he asked. “All the prettiest girls do.”
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